Gov’t, Reds sign deal on interim ceasefire
Government and communist rebel negotiators meeting in the Netherlands on Wednesday signed an agreement to forge an interim ceasefire leading to the end the 48-year-old insurgency.
The ceasefire will take effect as soon as the guidelines and ground rules are approved.
The two sides agreed “to forge a joint interim ceasefire agreement,” a joint statement said, adding that this will be “more stable” than the separate unilateral ceasefire declarations issued by the rebels and the government.
“The interim joint ceasefire will be signed simultaneous to or immediately after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Social and Economic Reforms (Caser) expected to be finished within the year,” the statement said.
“The Joint Ceasefire Agreement shall be deemed interim until a permanent ceasefire agreement is forged pursuant to a Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces.”
The agreement was reached during the fourth round of formal talks in the Netherlands by the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
The agreement, signed by chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello III and NDFP panel chair Fidel Agcaoili, directs the ceasefire committees of both parties to “meet immediately, even in between formal talks, to finalize the guidelines and ground rules.”
The signing was witnessed by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison.
Dureza, speaking by phone from the Netherlands, said he had consulted President Duterte on a draft interim ceasefire agreement.
“Mr. President, after several days, we have crafted together with the NDFP an agreement. Awaiting for your approval,” Dureza said he had told Mr. Duterte.
“Approved!” he quoted the President as saying.
Dureza also said the President reaffirmed his commitment to release some political prisoners.
This will show goodwill but that certain processes must be observed and it will take time and effort, he added.
The negotiating panels believe that a joint agreement could prevent unnecessary hostilities between government and rebel forces.
The guidelines cover the presence of armed groups in communities and the creation of buffer zones. It specifies prohibited, hostile and provocative acts, including the collection of revolutionary taxes. It also calls for undertaking joint socioeconomic projects.
The agreement also calls for the formation of a joint ceasefire committee and the prospective role of a third party to monitor the ceasefire and other mechanisms to implement the truce, including the handling of complaints and alleged violations.
“Matters regarding a single government authority and taxation shall be discussed and resolved in forging the Comprehensive Agreement on Political and Constitutional Reforms within the framework of the proposed Federal Republic of the Philippines,” the agreement said.
Bello had welcomed the openness of the NDFP “to forge an agreement on joint interim ceasefire that will accompany our peace negotiations throughout.”
Sison said a joint ceasefire monitoring committee would consist of “an equal number of representatives of the government and NDFP and their respective independent nominees.”
In an online interview on Wednesday, Sison said representatives from the Royal Norwegian Government, which has been brokering the peace negotiations, would also act as “third party observers” of the ceasefire.
Sison said the planned truce will not be different from the President’s demand of a bilateral ceasefire.
“Bilateral is synonymous with joint. No problem. The content of the agreement is what is important,” he said.
Agcaoili said the ceasefire agreement was proof that the talks were moving forward.
Captives to be freed
He said the New People’s Army (NPA) would immediately facilitate the release of a police officer and three soldiers the guerrillas had captured in Mindanao earlier this year.
But the speedy and safe release of the captives would require government forces to stand down in areas where they would be turned over to authorities, Agcaoili said.
The NDFP asked the government to suspend offensive police and military operations in the towns of Talakag, Lantapan, Baungon, Pagantucan and Kalilangan and the cities of Valencia, all in the province of Bukidnon. In Surigao del Norte, the suspension of military and police operations should cover Surigao City, Alegria, Bacuag, Gigaquit, Claver, Placer and Mainit.
The NDFP also requested a stand down in the town of Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte and certain areas in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and South Cotabato.
Safety of officials
Agcaoili said the suspension of operations by government troops would help ensure the safety of the third party teams, NPA custodial units and local government officials who will be at the releases.
Meanwhile, government negotiator Hernani Braganza confirmed that they had been meeting with the third party team composed of religious leaders from the Sowing the Seeds of Peace and said that military officials were also present in the discussions.
“As far as the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is concerned, they have no problem with the stand down,” Braganza said.
In an earlier online interview, Sison expressed opposition to two of four preconditions set by Mr. Duterte.
“The no territory and no taxation on business privilege by the people’s government amount to demanding the capitulation, pacification and self-destruction off the people’s government and all revolutionary forces,” Sison said.
The President set four preconditions for the fourth round of talks: an end to the rebels’ revolutionary tax collection, territorial claims by communist rebels, signing of bilateral truce, and the release of soldiers and policemen held by the NPA.
Sources involved in the talks said discussions on the proposed truce included the drafting of an understanding to release the NPA captives.
The CPP had ordered the NPA to release them as early as Feb. 19 to improve conditions for resuming the talks. However, only the militiamen—Rene Doller and Carl Mark Nucos—have been released by the guerrillas as of March.
The three soldiers still in rebel hands—Pfc. Edwin Salan, Sgt. Solaiman Calucop and Pfc. Samuel Garay—were captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat while PO2 Jerome Natividad was seized in Talakag, Bukidnon.
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